The British Broadcasting Century with Paul Kerensa

#072 The First Radio Dramatist: The Truth about Phyllis Twigg

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Episode notes

Britain's first writer for radio was Phyllis M Twigg. An unusual name, and yet... she seemed to pretty much vanish after her debut broadcast play, 'The Truth About Father Christmas' on 24th December 1922.

So much so, that the official record - in history books, on various BBC sites, in broadcasting legend - wrongly credits Richard Hughes' A Comedy of Danger in 1924 as the first original radioplay.

So is it because Twigg was writing for children? Or because her script didn't survive? Or because she's female? All and more?

On episode 72, our timeline brings us to 23rd April 1923 - Shakespeare's birthday - so as good a time as any to glance back, and forwards, to set the record straight about this forgotten female pioneer. 

Her pen name unlocks a whole new side to her, proving that far from vanish into the ether, she gave broadcast more children's stories, a bizarre paranormal experiment, and somehow also became the world's first TV cook! Plus there are cookbooks for children, porcelain cats and novelty lampshades.

Wow.

Somehow Phyllis Twigg/Moira Meighn is therefore the ancestor of Dennis Potter, Jamie Oliver, Angelica Bell and Derren Brown. She's one of a kind - in fact she's about four of a kind. Her tale's not fully been told till now, and we've gathered pretty much everyone who knows it onto this podcast.

Hear from Professor Tim Crook, Emeritus Professor of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London - he's gathered biographical information, sheet music, cookbooks and wonderful insights into this double pioneer.

Peter Grimaldi, Phyllis Twigg's grandson, brings tales from the archive that he's only recently discovered. (Watch the full video of Peter's interview with us here on Youtube: https://youtu.be/WpkGH88IHfc)

Dr Andrea Smith of the University of Suffolk joins us too to anchor us back in our April 1923 timeline, with scenes from Shakespeare on-air for the bard's birthday.

Thanks to the Twigg family for sharing her story with us, and especially to Prof Tim Crook for sharing his research and linking us with Peter Grimaldi.

Thanks too to Robert Seatter and John Escolme of the BBC History and Heritage Department, for being so open and hospitable to hearing Twigg's tale...

...Now you can hear it too! It's quite a story - and perhaps for the first time on this podcast, we're discovering something new about something old.

While the script of The Truth About Father Christmas remains lost, we do now have the short story that Twigg adapted it into... Anyone for a retro-adaptation back into a radioplay again?

I think this tale needs telling further. But let's start with this podcast...

 

SHOWNOTES:

Thanks for listening.

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NEXT EPISODE:

We've had drama, time for some comedy! April 1923 on the BBC: Comedians, at Harrods.

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